Sunday night, after the long trail ride (Part II Chapter 19)
After taking care of the horses for the night, the teens have a late supper and stumble to bed. Taïga remembers her promise to Teddy earlier the same morning but hesitates calling Granny so late. Hoping her grandmother hasn’t turned off her rudimentary cell, she texts her a short message to call her back first thing tomorrow morning… She yawns and pushes “send”.
Good deed done…
She doesn’t have the time to put the cell back in the drawer before it rings.
Granny’s face light up the screen and Taïga smiles.
‘Hi Granny! I thought you were asleep! … No, nothing… Everything’s all right. Yeah… Really? They’ve set the date? … Gosh… When? … The 22nd of August? Is that a special date? … OK… Uhu… Mmm… She’ll love that! … Do you think I can bring someone? … I just thought… OK… Exchange students? From Canada?’
Taïga smiles to herself, listening to Granny talk about Buddy and Peaches. Rowan has apparently put his plan in motion, telling Granny a white lie to cover the truth about their “imaginary” friends.
She bites her lip and lowers her voice, ‘Granny, can I ask you a favor? Well… I need that super elixir against spots you told me about, Granny… No, it’s not for me, it’s for Teddy… Yeah, Teddy Vargas… From Bigwood Falls, Granny, I told you about him… Yes, Derek’s brother… No. Derek is not here. Why? … Great! Tomorrow? … That will be perfect! I’ll keep an eye out for the postman in a couple of days! … I love you too, Granny! And hug Missy and Rowan from me, will you? … Bye…’
She ends the call, a huge grin on her face. Granny’s potion will surely help Teddy.
‘Who’s getting married?’ Chase looks at her in the mirror.
‘My great Aunt Missy.’
‘I love weddings! It’s so romantic…’
‘She’s kind of “ancient” so it’ll be a quiet ceremony. I guess.’
‘Oh. Well, marriages are always fun!’
Taïga just nods and buffs her pillow before lying down. ‘Knowing Missy it could be the party of the year!’ She stares at the shadows dancing on the ceiling. ‘I’m happy for her but it will feel kind of empty at Bayou Oaks without Missy. And Granny seems happy for her sister but I know she’ll be so lonely.’
She thinks of how brave Granny was when François Lambert died in a car crash many years ago*. Her grandmother never showed her distress, she only cried at night when she thought no one could hear her.
She yawns, unsuccessfully fighting sleep. ‘I hope she’ll find someone to love one day…’
‘Who? Your grams?’
‘Isn’t she a bit too old to fall in love?’
‘I certainly hope not!’
Taïga doesn’t really feel up to start on Teddy’s weight losing program the following morning after a night that has seemed extremely short. But Teddy is up and eager to go. He’s knocking on their door before the alarm even has had time to ring and he practically drags Taïga out of bed. They set off across the yard for a half hour of jogging before school, and turn into the forest on a trail Taïga knows from riding there.
Before long, Teddy’s enthusiasm wears off, and soon he’s panting and slacking off. Taïga stops and pulls out her earphones. She’s secretly happy Teddy had to stop, she’s not as fit herself as she thought.
‘Why don’t we do some stretching first, and then run some more?’
Teddy just nods and wipes his brow. ‘Jeez. This is harder than I thought.’
They do some easy stretching exercises to get their muscles warm and slowing their heartbeat.
‘OK. I think we’ll have to get going now, or we’ll be late for school.’
They set off again, backtracking towards APYR. Teddy catches up with Taïga. ‘Could we slow down a bit?’
‘Hey! Don’t complain – you set the pace, going off like a jack rabbit…’
Chase overheard Taïga on the phone Sunday night, and when the elixir arrives a couple of days later she wants in on the experiment.
‘But it’s only one dose.’ Taïga protests. ‘Maybe it won’t work if you share it-’
Teddy interrupts her. ‘It’s OK, Taïga. We both need it, huh? So we’ll try it, both of us.’
‘Yeah.’ Chase nods impatiently and Taïga holds out the glass with the elixir, trying not to breath in the foul scent. She makes the translucent liquid swirl, watching it leave oily traces on the glass.
‘OK. Just drink this, and then-’ She takes out a small tube of paste from her pocket with her left hand and holds it up. ‘-just coat each… err… spot with some of this paste.’
Teddy takes the glass and pinches his nose before eagerly swallowing half the elixir. ‘Here.’ He hands the rest to Chase with a grimace. ‘Good luck. Hope it’s half as effective as it tastes wile…’
He takes the tiny tube, and vanishes into the bathroom. Chase drinks.
‘Yuk. I guess this must be highly effective.’ She grimaces. ‘It tastes like fish oil, but worse.’
Taïga takes the glass, recoiling from the foul scent. The smell of fish oil is overpowering, but she also knows it’s only used to hide the real, much worse, ingredients. ‘Yeah. Granny always said fish oil’s good for health, and when she was a child, she had to take a spoonful a day!’ she adds cheerily.
‘Poor her!’ Chase looks thoughtful. ‘Did she have spots?’
Taïga doesn’t have time to answer, as Teddy interrupts them. ‘I’ll kill the first one who laughs.’
The girls swirl around and gapes at Teddy. His face is covered in light green fluorescent polka dots.
‘Ohmygod! Is the paste radioactive?’ Taïga reaches out but Teddy withdraws.
‘They will only last for a couple of hours,’ he adds sheepishly. It says so here.’ He shows some black print on the tube.
Chase takes it tentatively and smells it, staring at Teddy all the time. ‘Roses!?!’ She inhales deeply, ‘I love roses! They’re my favorite,’ she adds dreamily and vanishes into the bathroom.
Teddy chuckles as he and Taïga looks after her. ‘Roses? I thought it smelled like hot chocolate…’
‘Hot chocolate, huh?’
‘Yeah. Made me wanna eat it.’ Teddy grins. ‘Well, I guess I’ll better hide in my room until I don’t look like an ad for something bred in Tchernobyl anymore!’
Taïga laughs. ‘I hope you’ll be fit to be seen tomorrow morning! We’ll go jogging even if you look like a Pokémon!’
Teddy just laughs and hurries off towards the stairs. Taïga watches him vanish. Granny knows what she’s doing – she just hopes there was enough for both of them to be cured.
Taïga and Teddy continue jogging in the morning, and Taïga feels the benefit, too. After school they meet at Swole on Fitness, Appaloosa’s gym to work-out. Taïga is a hard personal trainer and she doesn’t let Teddy stop his exercises before their goal is reached.
‘Get up again! You can do this! Another 5 minutes and you’re done for today.’
‘I can’t do this. Derek runs, do you hear me?’ Teddy pants desperately trying to get the rhythm right on the treadmill but stumbling and almost falling. ‘He runs for hours. I can’t even walk on this damn thing!’
Taïga chews dreamily on her lip. She can easily imagine Derek running on the treadmill. Muscular legs pumping, sweat streaming down his back. Black hair a mess… She shakes her head to get rid of the disturbing image.
‘You aren’t Derek. And you must stop comparing yourself with him all the time. I believe in you, but you have to believe in yourself, too. Now get going!’
Teddy mutters, but continues. Walking…
‘That’s great, Teddy! But let’s try a little faster!’
The following weeks pass faster than Taïga would have thought. School, homework, training with Teddy and schooling of the horses and then finally the weekends, with long hikes in the countryside. She has finally succeeded in locating Derek with the help of the ring he left her – and a blood spell. It’s good to know he’s made it safely to Al Simhara, but being able to trace him also means her protection spell doesn’t work anymore. But the dangers are past him now, they just have to wait for him to come home again…
Teddy is getting a hang on how the treadmill works and his efforts has started showing. His clothes are hanging on him, but he refuses to buy something new. When Taïga urges him on, he continues in a steady rhythm. Breathing hard, but not giving up.
Taïga won’t let him get away with just losing weight, she wants him to have a go at the torture machines downstairs.
‘Don’t you want muscles? Everybody wants muscles.’
‘Well, I don’t.’
Taïga looks slyly at him. ‘Girls do.’
‘They do what?’
‘Like ripped stomachs and things like that.’
‘So what do you say? Shall we try pumping some iron?’
Taïga doesn’t answer. She leads the way to the weight room in the basement. Teddy avoids looking too closely at the muscular men working out, and takes a seat on something he thinks he can handle. The chest fly machine. After setting the weight on the lowest grade, he is ashamed and on the brim of giving up. But he clenches his teeth and pushes on…
‘So why don’t you take it off?’
Teddy has been working out for a few days and Taïga doesn’t understand why he doesn’t want to, at least, pull his T-shirt up high enough to check on his abs. But Teddy is adamant.
‘OK. As you like.’ Taïga unzips her hoodie. ‘I’ll go take a shower, being a personal trainer is exhausting!’ She adds over her shoulder, ‘But I’m sure you can see the muscles now. You said it yourself that you felt pumped.’
‘Yeah, sure. I bet you’re more exhausted than I am.’
‘No need to be flip about it! See you in the lobby!’
Teddy waits till he hears the door to the women’s changing room close behind Taïga. Then he quickly rips off his T-shirt and checks himself out in the mirror. There’s no six-pack – yet! But he likes his new body and the progress he’s made. He turns this way and that, flexing his biceps.
‘Hi Linn! I’m Teddy. You know, Derek’s brother…’
The elixir is working, but as Taïga feared, not a 100%. She was a little nervous Teddy would be disappointed, but he seems satisfied.
‘Compared with a month ago this is great! If I keep eating healthy food and doing sports, my skin will be clean in time for prom. And if it isn’t, I’ll ask Chase for some of that brown thingy she uses.’
Chase is also doing great, her skin has improved a lot and one of the girls at school, Benni Hennessey, has taught her how to use foundation to cover up her scars.
Taïga gapes. ‘Would you?’
Chase feels good with a better skin, she even feels pretty enough to ask Taïga if she would like to come with her for a haircut.
‘Just so they don’t go ahead and cut it too short or something. I mean, I’m scared to death they massacre my hair, but I can’t get much uglier, can I?’
‘Don’t talk like that. You have strong features, and I think a good haircut will make wonders. I’d love to come. Why don’t we ask Teddy, too?’
‘He’ll never get his hair cut if we ask him.’
Taïga knows that Chase is right. Somehow they have to lure him into getting a haircut. Finally they decide on buying him a gift card for a makeover at Shear Perfection Salon. If they all go together, he can’t really chicken out…
Teddy doesn’t show up at the appointed time. The girls are disappointed, but Chase shrugs. ‘Maybe we can use the gift card for you?’
Taïga shakes her head. ‘Oh, no. The last time I let someone else than Granny trim my hair, I came out with a short bob!’*
Teddy shows up two hours later, with some fake excuse. He’s surprised when he sees Chase with her hair freshly cut in a stylish but simple way. The result is really good, and Chase can’t stop looking at herself in the mirror. ‘I can’t believe it’s me!’
‘Wow. So, is it my turn now?’
‘Girls, why don’t you go downstairs and have a look. We’ve just received the prom dresses and I thought you’d like to give us a hand hanging them up – and maybe even try one… or two…’
The girls look at each other and leave Teddy in the hands of the stylish hairdresser.
There are many dresses to hang up and Chase can’t resist for very long. She has never been to prom before and the prospect of just trying one of the fabulous creations on is too big a temptation.
‘Are you sure it fits me?’ Chase turns this way and that, making the yellow and purple dress swirl.
‘You look perfect. You’re so tall and slim everything fits!’ Taïga reassures her. ‘You don’t even need high heels!’
‘Thank God! I can’t walk with heels anyway – I look like a man in drag!’
Chase puts on a fabulous pair of purple heels, and they both laugh as she walks holding on to the wall and waving her arms for balance.
Teddy never wanted to have his hair cut. He didn’t even want to go to the salon. But his guilt about the girls spending their money on the fancy gift card got the best of him and he took the bus in the hope that being late would postpone his rendezvous. No such luck.
Demonstratively he sits in the comfortable chair without taking off his beanie. But when Chester Ochoa looks at him with a glint in his eye and threatens to just take his scissors and cut around it giving him a pudding-bowl hairstyle, he finally obliges… And now it disturbs him to have Chester Ochoa fussing around, asking questions about how he wants his hair to be styled, massaging his head. Actually it feels very good, and that is what disturbs him.
‘Just do whatever you want,’ he mutters. ‘But not too short!’
His attention is involuntarily drawn to Sophia Martingale and Honey Darnell who are waiting for their turn to get their hair done. Honey has apparently bought some new jeans and is turning this way and that to show them off.
He stops at the bottom of the stairs and looks around for Taïga and Chase, but the shop seems to be empty. Suddenly there’s a crash, followed by giggling.
‘I told you I shouldn’t wear heels!’ Chase emerges, hanging on Taïga, wobbling on wonderful Jimmy Choo’s.
Teddy clears his throat. ‘So what do you think?’ he asks nervously.
‘Gosh! You’re so cute!’
I don’t want to be cute. I want to be handsome!
Taïga whistles. ‘Wow! Aren’t you good-looking! The girls will stand in queue for prom!’
He looks at his feet and smiles to himself. She is his best friend and she always seems to know what he’s thinking. ‘So are you?’
‘Definitely!’ She frowns. ‘Are you asking me to prom?’
Chase breaks in, saving him from answering. ‘And what about me? What do you think? I got this dress for free!’
Teddy looks her over. ‘You’ve got nice legs. You should wear a skirt more often, it suits you!’
Chase lights up. ‘Thank you! It’s a pity I can’t walk on these,’ she nods to her feet. ‘But then again, they are much too expensive for me, anyway.’
Teddy slings his arm around Taïga’s neck and pushes the door open with his other hand. ‘If we’re done here, let’s go.’
‘Wait for me, guys!’ Chase put the shoes back on the display and grabs her old sandals. Trying to strap them on, she hurries after Teddy and Taïga who are already outside. ‘We’re not going home already, are we?’
‘Of course not! Let’s go to the Waterhole!’ Taïga can’t wait to show her friends off to the others, and Chase, and even Teddy, seem just as excited.
‘It seems easy enough.’
VJ is leaning nonchalantly on the fence, watching Taïga elegantly mounting Sweet Thing.
‘Can’t be that difficult hiking around on the back of a stupid animal.’ He leers at Taïga. ‘If a girl can do it…’
Taïga just glares at him and turns Sweet Thing around with one hand.
VJ looks at her retreating figure chewing on a straw. ‘I used to love cowboy films when I was a kid. The action, you know. Those horses galloped all the time, while you just-’
‘OK. I’ve heard enough.’ Tate holds out Cloud’s reins towards VJ and gestures to him to come over.
VJ looks smugly over his shoulder before pointing at himself. ‘Me?’
He spits out the straw and saunters over to the old man who without a word resolutely puts the reins into his hands and walks away.
VJ looks from the retreating man to the huge animal. ‘Geez. It’s big up close…’ he mutters to himself. ‘Ahem… How do you mount?’ He scratches his neck and takes a step away from the horse. It takes a step too. VJ looks bewildered around but everyone avoids eye contact.
Thomas takes pity on him. ‘Just put your foot in the stirrup.’
It’s too damn high. And what the hell is a stirrup? He sneaks a look at Thomas who deftly puts his foot in the stirrup and swings his leg up.
Cloud stands patiently without moving while VJ precariously balances on his right leg, stretching the other as high as his slim jeans will let him. He finally succeeds to insert his foot, but in doing so he loses his balance and falls backwards onto the ground. Swearing he gets up and brushes dust from his legs.
‘Fucking horse moved!’
Thomas leans forward, a huge smile plastered on his face. ‘You ripped your jeans, VJ.’
‘That’s on purpose, moron.’
‘I guess showing off your ass’s on purpose too?’
‘Shit!’ VJ stomps off, swearing.
‘Should we wait for you, VJ?’ Tate’s face is impassive.
‘Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll get myself a Harley Davidson later…’ VJ mutters over his shoulder.
Tate chuckles and pats Cloud. ‘Sometimes it’s not enough with an old horse to school a young rider.’
Cream, “Lil’s” horse, is still quite nervous, so Chuck always stays close. His horse, Freebird, has a calming effect on the new mustangs and riding next to Lil’ Bling implies that he can show the turbulent teen how to handle her.
‘It’s all about trust. Cream can feel when you’re nervous, and she gets nervous herself. Just try to relax and let the time you spend in the saddle be a kind of bonding experience.’
‘She likes it when I sing to her,’ Lil’ Bling says unexpectedly.
‘Well, do that.’
Every occasion is good for Lil’ to rap away, and the countryside is soon echoing from his rhythmic words and the others taking up a refrain or answering.
The countryside around Appaloosa Plains is perfect to go on a trail ride, and they take the mustangs out as often as possible. Taïga listens to Lil Bling rapping about sunshine and birds and scary things in the bushes. His rhymes are fun, and she can’t help liking what she’s hearing, even though she still has a certain aversion against his personality.
They mostly take it slow, walking and jogging a little, saving the gallop for the security of the paddock.
The horses have much to learn, especially about cars and traffic. Every time they have to cross a road the mustangs get a little edgy. Sweet Thing had first refused to put her hooves on the blacktop and Taïga had had to dismount and lead her across. She’s still a little jumpy when she sees or hears something new, but Taïga has learnt to analyze and anticipate the horse’s movements.
The mustangs easily get spooked around new things, and even though Taïga thinks she can read the little mare as an open book, she is totally surprised when Sweet Thing suddenly rears to the side and sets off at the sight of an old ash tree.
Chuck doesn’t have the time to react before they are past him. He holds in Freebird who tries to set off, too. But when he sees how Taïga unsuccessfully fights the careening horse, he spurs Freebird on to catch up with them before they arrive at the steep canyon.
Chuck steers Freebird between Sweet Thing and the dangerous slope, and lets the experienced mare play her part, reassuring the young horse and thus helping Taïga to get Sweet Thing calmed down before causing an accident. Progressively they slow down to a trot before stopping completely. Taïga touches her head but her hat has blown off.
‘You did great.’ Chuck pats Freebird’s neck.
Taïga doesn’t know if he’s talking to her or to his horse, so she doesn’t say anything.
‘But you have to be prepared for such things to happen, and stop her before she gets going.’
Taïga nods, a little shaken from what had just happened. She can’t help but feeling a little elated, too. Apart from the fright before she mastered the pace, it was incredible riding so fast.
Taïga swirls in front of the mirror, making the layers of the thin, ice blue dress sweep around her feet with a swishing sound of taffeta. She has already talked to Loki about prom, and he seemed to be OK with Teddy taking her. He had said that he would probably take Linn, anyway. But it’s not Loki who’s on her mind as she critically scrutinizes her image in the mirror.
She wonders if Derek would have asked her or if he would have taken a girl from his class. She bites her lip and chases the thought. But it’s difficult to banish Derek from her mind. She knows where he is, but why does it take him so long to get back here? Or maybe it all went wrong and he was caught? An image of a starving Derek chained to a wall in an Egyptian prison flashes through her mind. No news could mean anything…
She looks at the alarm clock on the nightstand. It is soon time to leave. She rearranges the heart shaped bustier, pulling it a little higher. She has never worn such a sophisticated décolleté before and she is worried it shows off too much. A discreet knock on the door, and Chase peeks in.
‘The car’s here! And it’s a limo! Can you believe that? We’re going to prom in a stretch limo!’
Of course, Taïga thinks. Teddy has left hints the whole week about their ride. ‘Please don’t tell me it’s pink.’
‘Why should it? C’mon, the boys are waiting!’
Taïga holds her arm out to Teddy who’s waiting in the living room wearing a dark tuxedo and his hair very maturely slicked down. She wonders how Derek would look in a suit… She forces a smile.
‘So that’s what you and Thomas have been plotting about! I’ve never ridden in limo before.’ It is not exactly a lie, as it was so long ago Leonardo had taken them all to the Circus in his stretch limo.
Teddy fastens the corsage on her wrist with a smug smile. ‘Derek told me to go all out.’
‘Derek? He knows you’re taking me?’
‘Sure. He’s the one suggested it.’
A cold hand grips Taïga’s throat and she swallows. Derek had never intended taking her himself. But who would he have gone with? ‘Teddy? Do you know-’
Thomas is fretting by the door. ‘C’mon! The limo won’t wait forever!’
‘Just a sec!’ Chase is too excited to leave before she has showed off her wrist corsage to everyone. ‘Johnny hasn’t seen it yet! Johnny!’
‘Coming!’ Johnny comes out of the kitchen with a good looking blonde woman. Taïga does a double take.
‘Oh, my gosh! What the heck is she doing here?’ Not believing her own eyes, Taïga watches Mrs. Darnell sneak up to Johnny and hug him from behind, whispering something that makes him lean into her and smile happily. Their eyes meet over Johnny’s shoulder and Mrs. Darnell freezes.
Taïga tears her eyes away from the blond bombshell. At least she has the decency to blush!
Teddy notices her discomfort, and whispers in her ear, ‘It’s our last night at APYR and I’m sure Derek-’ He clears his throat. ‘-wants us to have fun tonight!’
He doesn’t know the full Derek-Darnell story*, but it’s not difficult to fill in the blanks when it comes to his brother.
Taïga knows he’s right and musters up a brave smile before accepting his proffered arm and letting him escort her out to the waiting limousine.
‘Hey! Can you guys give me a lift to school!? I’m already late and as I’m the DJ tonight…’ Lil Bling asks, pushing up his dark glasses with a ring clad finger.
Thomas and Teddy sigh, but they can’t refuse – there would be no music without him anyway.
Almost 7,000 miles* away
*11 265 km
The sun rises over Al Simhara International Airport, where Derek has spent the night on a couch.
The departure lounge is crowded and noisy. Because of a sandstorm, all planes are delayed and Derek wonders if he’ll be on a flight at all today. He tries to concentrate on the book he’s reading, but his thoughts are wandering and he realizes he’s read several pages without taking in anything of the story.
The little girl beside him looks wide-eyed at him and shakes her bottle, spraying him with lukewarm milk. Derek sighs and throws the book on the couch beside him. He takes out his cell and tries to call – again – but the heavy static from the storm has made calling impossible for over fifteen hours.
Nobody knows I’m still stuck here. Mom and Dad are having a second honeymoon in their new home, and as I wanted to surprise Teddy and Taïga I didn’t call… Well, I’ll try again later…
He rests his head in his arms and lets his mind wander back to when he first arrived in Egypt a fortnight ago. Getting his dad and mom reunited was charged with emotion. All doubts about his mom not loving his dad anymore vanished when he saw her cradle his dad’s tear struck face in her hands, and he was embarrassed at how they kissed like teenagers!
Gross…. And now they’ve gone into hiding with the help of Dwayne’s connections…
Derek can’t believe how lucky he is to be able to go home again and get a second chance at picking up where he left everything. He’ll start college in September. Play Varsity football… Date Taïga… He bites his lip and suppresses a smile. He will definitely go after her. Not being sure ever coming back again has made him realize how much he wants her…
He shakes his head and picks up his paperback again. Thinking of Taïga is too disturbing, but the annoying background noise makes it hard to concentrate on his book too. He fumbles in his pocket for a chewing gum and his fingers brush against the picture Cade had slipped into his jacket at the airport, an eternity ago. He pulls it out and lets his finger follow the shape of the dark-haired woman’s face. The photograph is worn and the colors are faded but there is something about the downturned corners of her mouth and the slight frown that makes her look familiar…
She’s not beautiful, but her features are definitely fascinating… I wonder why Cade put it in my pocket in secret? I have to find him and ask him… Dwayne might have his number or at least know where he usually hangs out…
He flips it over. The black ink is faded by age but there is no doubt what is written.
Tamra Moon, 1958… It must be the woman’s name. It doesn’t sound familiar and his research on the web had given no results, except concerning the poem.
OK, I found out it’s by someone called Mathilde Blind. But that’s about all… I think I’ll ask Thomas to help me out…
He reads the poem again, but he knows it by heart by now. And why this poem? It stirs something in him, just out of reach of his mind…
‘Sim Air flight 853 to Falls Harbor over Ndjamena is now boarding at gate 14.’
The impersonal voice of an announcement gets the departure lounge in a frenzy.
‘Sim Air vol huit cent cinquante-trois pour Falls Harbor par Ndjamena, embarquement immédiat à la porte quatorze…’
Derek pockets the picture and queues with the other passengers at gate 14. He tries his cell again, but the network is still down.
‘We are ready for takeoff, Sir. Could you please turn off your mobile?’
‘Just a second.’ Derek scrolls down until he finds Taïga’s number without looking up. I can’t switch it off now that I’ve finally got a signal!
‘I’m sorry, but I must insist, Sir.’
‘OK.’ He looks up at the pretty air hostess, playing for time. As he had thought, she stops for a beat, staring into his eyes. He can hear the impersonal voicemail greeting droning on from his cell on his lap. Then silence. ‘Shit! I’m sorry, I’ll just-’ He fumbles with it and murmurs quickly, ‘Wait for me to come home…’
‘Now could you turn that off, Sir, or I must take it from you.’ The hostess frowns at him.
‘OK. OK.’ He turns off the cell and returns it to his pocket. ‘What time is it on the East coast, ma’am?’
The hostess checks her watch. ‘11 p.m. Sir.’
‘Thank you.’ Strange… That makes it 9 p.m. in Appaloosa Plains so I wonder why she doesn’t answer her phone… She must have forgotten it somewhere again. He smiles to himself and settles comfortably in the large first class chair, courtesy of Hassan Badawi. I can’t wait to see her. We’ll talk. I’ll tell her how I feel and everything will be all right…
‘Excuse me, young man. Could you show me how to recline the chair?’
The old lady next to him peers at him behind steel rimmed glasses. Derek realizes he must have dozed off, but he smiles politely nevertheless and helps the woman.
‘Thank you. You’re most kind. Most young people nowadays don’t care much to help, you know. Especially in those Western countries. In Egypt we are raised to respect our elders. I remember when I first visited my son – he lives in Bridgeport, it’s a very big city on the East Coast – and he…’
Derek reclines his own chair and closes his eyes, tuning out the old woman next to him… She’s dating Loki. But I know she’s attracted to me… She can’t hide it, when we touch it’s like… fire… He smiles to himself again. I’ll make her realize that Loki guy isn’t right for her… He’ll bore her to death… And I’ll have to find the guy she’s promised to and get rid of him… Or we’ll just run away… Somewhere like Isla Paradiso… or Sunlit Tides… She’ll like the South Pacific… I’ll fight for her…
Exhaustion finally gets the better of him and still smiling he dozes off again, lulled to sleep by the slight vibrations of the plane…
There’s a voicemail on her cell waiting when Taïga returns after prom.
Her first impulse is to erase the call but she is too curious. Hesitantly she puts the cell to her ear and a second later her blood rushes to her cheeks and her heart starts to race as a husky voice envelopes her like velvet. Derek. She listens to the short message again and again, letting it fill her with happiness.
‘Wait for me to come home.’
She looks around her room to tell Chase, but she’s not in their room yet. She’s probably lingering outside with Thomas. Holding the cell against her heart, she murmurs, ‘Thank you thank you thank you…’
Happily she sets her cell to ring early so she’ll have time to go for a ride before leaving APYR for good the next day. Then she pushes it under her pillow so she could feel it vibrate if Derek sends her another message.
She knows it’s completely selfish of her, but after the first impulse to cry out the news, she now wants to keep it to herself, just a little longer…
She’ll wait to tell Teddy in the morning – he’s probably got the same message anyway… Smiling to herself she wonders what he wanted to tell her. Tomorrow. Just a few hours and he’ll be here. She sighs. Tomorrow seems so close and yet so far away…
Her thoughts are bouncing around her head, but finally she falls asleep with a hand on her cell under the pillow and a faint smile on her lips, listening to the message over and over…
It seems like she has just closed her eyes when she is woken up only a couple of hours later.
‘Taïga… Wake up, Taïga.’ Chuck gently touches her shoulder and she stirs, raising on one arm.
‘What’s the matter?’ Chase asks a little groggily from her bed, but when she sees Chuck’s expression she sits up straight.
‘There’s been an, err… accident…’
‘Granny? Is she all right?’ Taïga whispers, feeling the blood drain from her face. She concentrates herd on Chuck’s face, trying to read his emotions but only seeing pain. She doesn’t even notice Chase waddling over and sitting by her side.
‘No, it’s not your grandma. It’s…’ Chuck sighs, and takes a deep breath. ‘It’s Derek. His plane went down. Crashed.’
And Taïga’s whole world crumbles …
Part II – End of Chapter 20